Like many others, I’ve held back from commenting on Britain’s referendum to leave the EU (the so-called “Brexit”) until now. This is mostly because I know a lot of my friends read this website and I’ve never felt it appropriate to cram my political views down someone else’s throat just because we happened to go to the same school. But also it’s because I’ve been online long enough now to know that the internet is a dark and depressing place at the best of times and trying to make your views heard against that background roar of hatred, ill-informed vitriol and downright trolling is no way to add meaningfully to the discussion.
But the referendum is over now, the votes have been counted and Britain stands on the cusp of change. And there is nothing that my words (like my vote) can do to change anything.
Last night Brexit won. Britain is leaving the EU.
Much will be said over the coming days about how close the race was. People will point to all sorts of demographics. They’ll show how Scotland voted unanimously to stay and how they’ll probably want another referendum of their own soon. They’ll point to Northern Ireland voting to stay and how they’ll likely be looking for unification with the rest of Ireland. They’ll show the oddities seen in places like Sheffield — SHEFFIELD! — of all places, which inexplicably voted to leave despite being a long-time bastion of liberal ideals. They’ll discuss how the “remain” campaign never quite managed to get their message across to the tabloid-reading working classes and that’s why the “leave” campaign ultimately won.
But they won’t talk much about people like me. British people who live abroad. British people who have foreign wives and foreign children in their not-too-distant future. British people, in short, who have always considered themselves European first, British second and English only a very distant third.
I live in Poland. My wife is French. European life and European culture flows through my veins and beats in my chest. It used to be that I was just another EU citizen living between countries as was my right as an EU citizen. Now, I find myself an oddity, straddling two worlds as they strive to isolate themselves from each other. Will I need a visa to work here in the future? Will I need to reapply for residency? Will I have to start buying health insurance when I travel to other EU countries? Heck, will I need to start taking my passport with me when I pop over the border to Germay?
And beyond these mundane practicalities, there’s the simple fact that I’m devastated. Shocked. Without any sort of hyperbole, this is honestly one of the saddest days of my life. I feel as though my entire national identity — my whole sense of who I am — has been ripped away from me. It’s nothing short of a mini-existential crisis.
And what gets me — what I really don’t understand — is how there are actually people in the UK rejoicing at this result. There are people who say, “We don’t need the EU. It’s never done anything for us. We’re better off without it.”
Let me tell you something: Poland joined the EU in 2004. I moved here in 2009, so I’ve already been living in this country for most of the time that it’s been an EU nation. I have seen first-hand the good that comes from belonging to the EU. I’ve seen the workers flowing out of the country to other countries where they are more needed, thus helping reduce Poland’s unemployment rate. I have seen the influx of money and foreign investment. Wroclaw, where I live, is a booming economic centre: the home of Amazon, Google, HP, Volvo and Credit Suisse where I work, not to mention many more.
Did you know that when I first moved to Poland, there was only one motorway in the entire country? At the time Poland was the only country in Europe whose capital city, Warsaw, wasn’t connected to the rest of the nation via highway. At the time, if you wanted to drive to Germany you’d have to go via a road which was built by the Nazis. And note, when I say that this road was built by the Nazis, I don’t just mean that it followed the path of a road which was built by them. No, I literally mean it was the exact same road, foundations and all, which was built back in the 1930’s and never updated.
Now don’t get me wrong, Germany is fantastic a building roads. But 70 years is a long time to go without an upgrade.
All of that is changed now. Poland’s motorway network is vast and growing all the time. Its infrastructure is on a par with may Western European countries. The EU made this possible.
And you know what? The really great thing about free market, open border politics is that Poland’s gain was the UK’s gain also! Thanks to the influx of skilled labour from countries like Poland, the British economy boomed and its unemployment rate remained enviably low even throughout the darkest days of the 2008 credit crunch. Immigration meant an influx of skilled labour into the UK, much of whom was prepared to work in jobs that most British people wouldn’t want and for wages that they wouldn’t accept. And the best thing was that Britain didn’t need to spend a penny on educating these people or keeping them healthy through their formative years. Instead here they were suddenly on our doorstep, willing to move to our country and work, thus instantly adding value to Britain’s economy.
But the “Leave” campaign never see this. They see only immigrants and the scary refugees in camps in Calais and somehow they get them all confused in their heads and they start shouting xenophobic nonsense like “they’re taking our jobs!” Guys — you want a job? Apply to one which matches your skill set and then do better than the other candidates in the interview. Stop blaming other people for your own failures.
Whatever. There’s no point in arguing these matters anymore. Brexit won. The time for debate is over.
I’m in shock right now but I know that pretty soon I’m just going to have to face facts. The Britain I remember from my childhood is gone. The Britain I grew up in — that of “Cool Britania” and New Labour — is as much a figment of my imagination now as Nigel Farage’s much-vaunted Golden Age of pre-EU Britain. The fact is, I must have been away from my country for too long because I obviously no longer understand it. I always knew Britain was a fundamentally cautious nation when it came to European affairs but Brexit in on a whole other level?
I mean for crying out loud, even my own home town voted to leave! My friends and family — the people I grew up with — probably voted to leave. Do you know how sad that makes me?
Sad as it is for me to say, I don’t think there’s a place for me in Britain anymore. I don’t like what this country is becoming. I don’t like what it’s doing. And luckily, I was able to get out and move abroad before that border was closed to me.
So you know what Britain? You don’t want Europe? Fine, Europe doesn’t want you.
Go! Be independent if that’s what you want. Enjoy the coming decade of constant recession, rising unemployment and falling exports. You want to keep those immigrants away? Fine by me! I’ll just have to stay abroad instead and be an immigrant myself.
You wanted Brexit. You got Brexit. I hope it drowns you.
I am never going back.